Building upgrades, culture top priorities for school year

Building upgrades, culture top priorities for school year

Donna Langille, a 1st-grade teacher at Agnes Little Elementary School in Pawtucket, uses her computer to print name tags for her incoming class on Monday. (Breeze photos by Charles Lawrence)

PAWTUCKET – Students returning for the 2019-2020 school year next week will notice facility upgrades “touching every school,” including bathroom upgrades in some schools, said interim Supt. Cheryl McWilliams. It's all part of a comprehensive effort to create optimal environments for learning.

McWilliams says she is looking forward to getting started on her first school year as top school administrator in the city, honoring the good work of the past few years under former Supt. Patti DiCenso and building on it.

Education is about more than a number on a page, she told The Breeze, and she plans to continue the commitment Pawtucket has had to improving its facilities. This summer has featured plenty of work toward creating safe, dry and warm places for students to learn, including ongoing health and safety upgrades.

Students at Winters Elementary School will be bused to the swing space at the Pawtucket Annex on Central Avenue. Winters will be replaced with a new school, the first new elementary project for the city in many years, and Baldwin Elementary will follow that.

The superintendent said she’s proud of the way all stakeholders have embraced the district's aggressive initiative to improve school facilities, and is excited to be kicking off a new school year with so much positivity.

Students in Pawtucket return to school next Wednesday, Aug. 28, with a series of open houses and welcome back events happening at various schools earlier in the week. Teachers will have their kickoff next Monday, Aug. 26.

McWilliams said she loves having welcome back events before the start of school to get students acclimated to their surroundings.

Administrators were recently welcomed back with a great “Tunnel of Hope” event, said McWilliams, and she’s looking forward to welcoming teachers back as well.

The superintendent said she’s especially excited about the advance of the Community School initiative in Pawtucket. Agnes Little saw the first of these holistic programs two years ago, then Winters was added last year, and this year Fallon is getting one. She said her hope is, again working with the Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance and American Federation of Teachers, to secure another grant in the coming year to bring the program to other schools.

These are full-service Community Schools with “total wrap-around service," including a full-time coordinator in place. For example, at a back-to-school bash at Agnes Little next Monday, Aug. 26, from 6 to 8 p.m., there will be free dental screenings, vision screenings, haircuts and other services, in addition to other fun activities. Winters will also have a similar event that night, and Fallon will have its event the next night. Other schools will have welcome events, McWilliams said, but not to this level.

Community Schools illustrate just how much wrap-around services contribute to overall school learning and culture, said McWilliams. When other aspects of a student’s life are addressed, it positively impacts attendance, school environment, culture and learning.

For McWilliams, there are three main goals heading into 2019-2020: To focus on social emotional learning, to promote cultural awareness in staff, and to promote better teaching and learning through quality curriculum instruction. All of those are to be wrapped in collaboration, compassion and courage, words McWilliams inserts at the end of each of her emails.

A huge continued push this year in Pawtucket, aligning with the state, will be creating culturally aware schools that acknowledge that students come from different backgrounds and pathways. By leveling that playing field, everyone can learn and have a chance to succeed to the highest standards, said McWilliams.

One example of a program that’s showing tremendous results is the American Reading Company program instituted last year, which is leading to great gains.

This year a new English language intervention program will be implemented, and there will also be greater investments in social emotional supports for students.

Community partners continue to play a vital role in bringing those supports, particularly at the middle school level, said McWilliams. New facilitators help increase parent engagement in their children’s education.

Pawtucket’s continued progress educationally can’t happen without everyone working in unison, said McWilliams.

“We know the power of working together is what gets things done,” she said.

Improvement as a district means determining where things stand, deciding on action steps, and getting the job done, said McWilliams. Real data needs to lead to concrete steps.

On initiatives that will be looked at in the near future, McWilliams said the schools’ social media policy will get a review to determine how it can contribute to the overall school culture. Though the policy currently states that social media shouldn’t disrupt the school day, there are few specifics on how that is to be accomplished. There needs to be consistency and procedures in place, she said, so the policy can be properly enforced.

For more on the new school year, visit .

Second-grade teacher Tracie Bourget, at Agnes Little Elementary School in Pawtucket, returned to the classroom on Monday. She was making “place value discs” to be used in her math lessons. The first day of school is Wednesday, Aug. 28.